Kicking the Pigeon #3: April 28, 2003

On the evening of April 28, 2003—two weeks after she filed a complaint with OPS about the April 13 incident—Diane Bond returned home at about 7:30 p.m. from the corner store. She encountered Officers Stegmiller, Savickas, Utreras, and Schoeff outside her apartment door. Also present was a fifth officer she later identified as Joseph Seinitz. He was tall and lean, in his thirties, with closely cropped blond hair. She recognized him as the officer known on the street as “Macintosh.”

The officers had two young men in custody. Demetrius Miller was one of them; she didn’t recognize the other. His name, she gathered, was Robert Travis. Bond recounted the incident to me the next day.

One of the officers barked at her, “Get the hell out of here!” Moments later, as she was descending the stairs, another yelled, “Come here!” Seinitz came down the stairs and grabbed her. Holding her by the collar of her jacket, he dragged her back up to the eighth floor, her body scraping against the stairs.

While Seinitz held Bond, Savickas punched her in the face and demanded, “Give me your fucking keys!”

“They snatched my jacket off and took the keys out of my pocket,” she told me. “I was so scared, I pissed on myself.”

The officers entered her apartment. They ordered her to sit on the sofa in her living room. The two young men, handcuffed, sat on her glass coffee table.

Stegmiller came in from outside the apartment and placed two bags of drugs on the top of her microwave. (He would later testify that he had found the drugs in an “EXIT” sign in the corridor outside her apartment.)

One officer stayed with Bond and the two boys, while the other three searched the apartment. The officer leaned back on her television cabinet where family pictures and religious artifacts were arrayed. She begged him not to sit on her icon of the Virgin Mary.

“Fuck the Virgin Mary,” he said, as he swept his hand across the top of the cabinet, knocking the Virgin Mary and other religious objects to the floor.

Seinitz and two other officer were searching Bond’s bedroom. They motioned to her to come into the room. They told her to pull down her pants. Then they told her to pull down her panties.

Seinitz brandished a pair of needle-nosed vise-grips and threatened to pull out her teeth if she didn’t cooperate.

“Why’d you pee on yourself?” one of them taunted.

They ordered her to bend over with her back to them, exposing herself. While she was in that position, they instructed her to reach inside her vagina “and pull out the drugs.”

Bond was overcome by terror. As a child and young woman, she had, she told me, suffered repeated sexual abuse at the hands of men, including a gang rape when she was a high school student. Now, despite the official complaint she had made against these officers, they were again swarming around her, threatening her, cursing her, forcing her to undress. She feared they would rape or kill her. “I didn’t know what they were going to do next.” She only knew that each thing they did was worse than the last.

They brought her back into the living room. One of the officers instructed Travis to “stiffen up,” as he punched him repeatedly in the stomach.

“Do you want us to put a package on her?” the officer asked Travis.

“I don’t care what you do with her,” he replied.

They left with the two men.

Bond locked the door, collapsed on her sofa, and wept.

* * * *

A neighbor, Barbara White, who lives on the second floor of 3651 S. Federal, reported she too was assaulted that night by the same group of officers after they left Bond’s apartment.

White was employed at that time as a security guard. “I’ve lived here twenty-two years,” she told me, “and never had any problems.”

According to White, a friend named Bruce Reed came by at about 8:15 p.m. to see if she wanted anything from the store. When Reed came to the door, she was in the kitchen washing dishes. She said no. When he turned to leave, five police officers were at the door.

“What’s wrong?” White asked.

“You put my fuckin’ life in danger,” said one of the officers. White’s description of him—white, salt-and-pepper hair, about 40 years old—fits Stegmiller. She recognized him as one of the officers who some months earlier had demanded, in the course of searching her 16-year-old goddaughter, that the girl expose her breasts.

Stegmiller claimed White had yelled out the warning “Clean up!” when the police first arrived at the building earlier that evening. She denied she had done so. He slapped her across the face.

“You slap her,” he ordered Reed.

Reed refused. “I’m not gonna slap her.”

“If you don’t slap her, you’re going to jail.”

“You might as well take me to jail, ‘cause I’m not gonna put my hand on her.”

White tried to get to the telephone to call 911. Stegmiller blocked her path and threatened her, “Bitch, if you call 911, I’ll come back and fuck you up myself.”

The officers left. White called 911 and requested an ambulance which took her to Michael Reese Hospital. She was examined, then took the bus home.

* * * *

The basis for this narrative is a series of interviews with Diane Bond, beginning on the day after the alleged incident, April 29, 2003, and continuing to the present; interviews with Demetrius Miller, Barbara White, and Bruce Reed; and the plaintiff’s statement of facts in Bond v. Chicago Police Officers Utreras, et al.

Officers Robert Stegmiller, Joseph Seinitz, Christ Savickas, Andrew Schoeff, and Edwin Utreras deny having any contact with Ms. Bond on the date alleged.

To be continued…

Kicking the Pigeon #2: The Setting

Diane BondView of Stateway demolition

Stateway Gardens, the community where Diane Bond has lived for the last twenty-seven years, is one of the high-rise public housing developments being redeveloped by the Chicago Housing Authority as part of its “Plan for Transformation.” Bounded by 35th and 39th Streets and State and Federal Streets, Stateway originally consisted of six seventeen-story and two ten-story high-rises on 33 acres. It provided 1,644 units of family housing. Under the redevelopment plan, private developers will build a “mixed income community” consisting of 1,315 units of housing, 439 of which will go to public housing residents. This “new community” will be called Park Boulevard.

The Stateway numbers—a net loss of 73% of the original public housing units—reflect the essential trajectory of the Plan for Transformation. City officials and developers speak of this massive reallocation of public resources to private hands in highly moralistic terms. Public housing developments, Mayor Daley has remarked more than once, lack “soul.” The new communities to be built on the land cleared by demolition will, so the logic goes, restore the soul of the city.

In a display that was part of an exhibition on the Plan for Transformation at the Chicago Historical Society last year—more an exercise in public relations for the CHA than historical inquiry—Stateway Gardens was described as “isolated.” This characterization is consistent with the prevailing social scientific discourse on urban poverty. It is not, however, consistent with geography. It would be more accurate to say that Stateway, like most of the CHA archipelago, is not isolated but abandoned. Now that the rest of the Stateway buildings have been razed, Diane Bond looks out from her eighth-floor apartment, over the Bridgeport neighborhood and the Illinois Institute of Technology campus, at the downtown skyline. To the west, on the other side of the Dan Ryan Expressway, she can see White Sox Park. To the east, she can see De La Salle High School where both Mayor Daleys went to school. And just out of sight, blocked from view by the eastern tier of her building, located three blocks away at 35th and Michigan, is the administrative headquarters of the Chicago Police Department. As I have observed elsewhere, the question posed by this landscape is: who has isolated themselves from whom?

* * * *

“It’s like a nightmare,” Bond told me the day after her encounter with the police. “All I did last night was cry.”

When I knocked on her door, she was cleaning up. She gave me a tour and showed me the damage—the shattered picture of the Last Supper, the damaged frame of Willie’s high school graduation picture, the broken drinking glasses, the clothes and objects strewn around Willie’s room, the one room she had not yet cleaned up.

I had at that time known Diane Bond for several years. In my role as advisor to the Stateway Gardens resident council, I worked out of an office on the ground floor of 3544 S. State, the building in which she lived. Every so often I would see her in passing, most often going to or coming from her job as a public school janitor. I didn’t know her well but formed an impression of a cheerful woman in coveralls who moved through the turbulent scene “up under the building”—at once drug marketplace and village square—with an easygoing, friendly manner.

Diane in front of old building

In September of 2002, 3544 S. State was closed in preparation for demolition. Residents were given the choice of taking a housing voucher and moving into the private housing market or remaining on site. Bond opted to move to 3651 S. Federal. When the day came, the CHA provided moving vans for Bond and other residents relocating on site. At the end of the day, I encountered her, in a characteristically ebullient mood, ferrying the last of her possessions across the development in a shopping cart.

Diane's apartment

Her apartment in 3651 S. Federal is deeply inhabited. Two large, comfortable sofas, arrayed around a coffee table, dominate the living room. The top of the television cabinet functions as a sort of household altar for religious objects and family photos, among them pictures of her three sons: Delfonzo, now 30 years old, Larry, 29, and Willie, 21. Working as a janitor, Bond raised her boys as a single mother. She expresses pride in the fact that they have largely managed to stay clear of trouble in an environment where that is no small achievement. For the last three years, she has been involved with a man named Billie Johnson. Quiet and gentle in manner, Johnson labors in the economy of hustle—repairing cars, helping maintain the Stateway Park District field house and grounds, doing odd jobs for his neighbors.

* * * *

At my urging, Bond went to the Office of Professional Standards (OPS) of the Chicago Police Department to register a complaint against the officers who she said had assaulted her. As it happens, the OPS office is located at 35th and State in the IIT Research Institute Tower, the 19-story building visible from her apartment that stands like a wall of glass and steel between Stateway and the IIT campus to the north.

OPS investigates complaints of excessive force by the police. It is staffed by civilians and headed by a chief administrator who reports to the superintendent of police. When someone makes a complaint to OPS, an investigator takes down his or her statement of what happened. The individual is asked to review the statement and to sign it. In theory, OPS conducts its own investigation, interviewing the police officer(s) involved and any witnesses, then renders a judgment. In the vast majority of cases, it finds that the complaint is “not sustained”—i.e., the investigators could not determine the validity of the allegations of abuse. In a small number of cases each year, OPS sustains the complaint and recommends discipline for the officer(s) involved. An officer facing discipline may appeal to the Police Board, a body composed of nine civilians appointed by the mayor. The board has the power to reduce the punishment recommended by OPS or the superintendent and to reverse OPS altogether.

OPS has long been sharply criticized by human rights activists who argue that it functions not as a vehicle for holding the police accountable but as a shield against such accountability. They cite the numbers. For example, from 2001 through 2003, OPS received at least 7,610 complaints of police brutality. Significant discipline was imposed by the CPD in only 13 of those cases—six officers were terminated and seven were suspended for 30 days or more. In other words, an officer charged with brutality during 2001 – 2003 had less than a one-in-a-thousand chance of being fired.

It is, thus, extremely unlikely that an OPS investigation will yield any meaningful discipline for the officers involved. Yet it does not seem unreasonable to hope that a pending OPS investigation will at least serve to deter the officers named from further contact with the person who filed the complaint. That, at any rate, is what I told Diane Bond by way of reas
surance.

Building at Stateway overlooking police headquarters

3542-44 S. State Street being demolished with police headquarters in the background.

To be continued…

Kicking the Pigeon #1: April 13, 2003

On Sunday, April 13, 2003, at about 5:00 p.m., Diane Bond, a 48 year-old mother of three, stepped out of her eighth floor apartment in 3651 South Federal, the last remaining high-rise at the Stateway Gardens public housing development, and encountered three white men. Although not in uniform, they were immediately recognizable by their postures, body language, and bulletproof vests as police officers. Bond gave me the following account of what happened next.

“Where do you live at?” one of the officers asked. He had a round face and closely cropped hair. Bond later identified him as Christ Savickas.

“Right there,” she pointed to her door.

He put his gun to her right temple and snatched her keys from her hand.

Keeping his gun pressed to Bond’s head, he opened her front door and forced her into her home. The other officers followed. As Bond stood looking on, they began throwing her belongings around. When she protested, one of them handcuffed her wrists behind her back and ordered her to sit on the floor in the hallway of the two-bedroom apartment.

An officer with salt-and-pepper hair, whom Bond later identified as Robert Stegmiller, entered the apartment with a middle-aged man in handcuffs and called out to his partners, “We’ve got another one.”

Bond’s 19 year-old son Willie Murphy and a friend, Demetrius Miller, were playing video games in his bedroom at the back of the apartment. Two officers entered the room with their guns drawn. They ordered the boys to lie face down on the floor, kicked them, handcuffed them, then stood them up and hit them a few times.

“Why are you’all doing this?” Bond protested.

Savickas came into the hall and yelled at her, “Shut up, cunt.” He slapped her across the face, then kicked her in the ribs.

In the course of searching the apartment, the officers threw Bond’s belongings on the floor, breaking her drinking glasses. Savickas knocked to the floor a large picture of a brown-skinned Jesus that sits atop a standing lamp in a corner of the living room.

“Would you pick up my Jesus picture?” Bond appealed to him.

“Fuck Jesus,” replied Christ Savickas, “and you too, you cunt bitch.”

Stegmiller then forced Bond to her feet, led her into her bedroom, and closed the door.

“Give us something to go on,” he told her. “If you don’t, we’ll put two bags on you.” He took off his bulletproof vest and laid it on the window sill. He removed the handcuffs from her wrists.

“Look into my eyes, and tell me where the drugs are. If you do,” he gestured toward the hallway where the man he had brought into the apartment was being held, “only that fat motherfucker will go to jail.”

Another officer entered the bedroom. Bond later identified him as Edwin Utreras. “Has she been searched?” he asked. “I’m not waiting on no female.”

Utreras took her into the bathroom and closed the door. He ordered her to unfasten her bra and shake it up and down. Sobbing, she did as he told her. He ordered her to take her shoes off. Then he told her to pull her pants down and stick her hand inside her panties. Standing inches away in the small bathroom, he made her repeatedly pull her panties away from her body, exposing herself, while he looked on.

“You’ve got three seconds to tell me where they hide it or you’re going to jail.” She extended her arms, wrists together, for him to handcuff her and take her to jail.

Utreras didn’t handcuff her. He returned her to the hall and ordered her to sit on the floor. An officer she later identified as Andrew Schoeff was beating the middle-aged man Stegmiller had earlier brought into the apartment. Bond and the boys looked on, as he repeatedly punched the man in the face.

“He was beating hard on him,” recalled Demetrius Miller. “Full force.”

Knocked off balance by his blows, the man fell on a framed picture of the Last Supper that was resting on the sofa. The glass shattered.

“There ain’t nothing in this house,” Bond kept insisting. “There ain’t nothing in this house.”

“Give us the shit, and we’ll put it on him,” said Stegmiller.

The name of the man to whom he referred, the man his colleague was beating, is Mike Fuller. On Fuller’s account, he had been descending from a friend’s apartment on the sixteenth floor, when he encountered Stegmiller coming up the stairs between the fifth and sixth floors.

“Where are you coming from?” Stegmiller demanded.

“From the sixteenth floor,” he replied.

“You’re lying,” said Stegmiller. “You’re coming from the eighth floor.”

He grabbed Fuller and searched him. Finding $100, Stegmiller pocketed it, then pushed him up the stairs. “I wouldn’t mind shooting me a motherfucker,” he said, “if you try to run.”

Stegmiller took Fuller to Bond’s apartment. “He kept telling me that’s where I’d run to,” said Fuller. Once inside the apartment, Stegmiller took a flashlight from a shelf in the kitchen and beat the handcuffed Fuller on the head with it. (“They don’t beat you,” he observed, “till after they cuff you.”) “If I find dope,” Stegmiller threatened, “it’s gonna be yours.”

“I saw how they ramshackled her house,” Fuller recalled.

The officers, having found no drugs, were now drifting out of the apartment. Stegmiller made a proposition to the two boys: if they beat up Fuller, they could go free. “If you don’t beat his ass,” he told Willie, “we’ll take you and your mother to jail.”

The boys put on a show for the officers. (“Hitting him on the arms, fake kicking,” Miller said later. “No head shots.”) After they threw a few punches, Stegmiller intervened and removed Fuller’s handcuffs “to make it a fair fight.” The three rolled around on the floor for a couple of minutes. The officers looked on and laughed.

“I told the boys to make it look good,” Fuller recalled. “It was for their amusement.”

Stegmiller applauded. He left laughing. No arrests were made.

* * * *

The basis for this narrative is a series of interviews with Diane Bond, beginning on the day after the alleged incident, April 14, 2003, and continuing to the present; interviews with Willie Murphy, Demetrius Miller, and Michael Fuller; and the plaintiff’s statement of facts in Bond v. Chicago Police Officers Utreras, et al, a federal civil rights suit brought by Ms. Bond.

Officers Robert Stegmiller, Christ Savickas, Andrew Schoeff, and Edwin Utreras deny having any contact with Ms. Bond on the date alleged.

To be continued…